Detail of Kozyndan’s Rainbow Narwhal Spirit Animal.

Collaborate on a trust-only basis, or why it’s a good idea to go against traditional business wisdom

Peter Bihr
May 15, 2013 · 3 min read

In startup land, as in most traditional business contexts where intellectual property counts as an asset, we’re usually told to guard our ideas, our prototypes, our processes. Here’s a rallying cry to go the opposite direction: To share ideas, to openly collaborate before getting the lawyers involved. To iterate not just on a product, but on the the very nature of our business relationships, our collaborations, our organizations.

As the fantastic Russell Davies wrote as a sub-header: “More Ideas = Better Ideas: Lowering Your Standards for Fun and Profit.” It’s a powerful notion. Not a call for low standards and sloppy work, obviously, but for implementing ideas early and quickly to test them against reality. And it doesn’t just apply to ideas, but also to products or maybe even companies.

How to get there? If you’re a big corporation, set up a skunkworks unit and give them free reign. (Good luck with that!) It might be easier for smaller companies and freelancers, though, who can leverage their lack of resources into rapid prototyping that’s guided by interest, delight and curiosity. And the trick might be to do business against established business wisdom: By starting without contracts, on a handshake basis. Low-level collaborations as a market test before setting up anything but the most basic infrastructure or organizations. Call it speculative incorporation (also a Russell-ism), call it “hacking with friends in a room”.

Personally, I’ve been working like this - and working on this - through shared space, as I believe physical proximity fosters the exchange of ideas as well as opportunities for collaboration. For some, a traditional coworking space works best. My setup is slightly different, but also quite simple: I rented an office and invited a group of good friends and trusted collaborators, who happen to be top experts in their respective fields.

What started out as a silly joke (“What’s our office called on Foursquare?”) quickly turned into a mini hub of collaboration and shared invention. KANT, the Kreuzberg Academy of Nerdery and Tinkering, was born. Set in the heart of Berlin Kreuzberg, it’s where five people - an IoT expert, a web and an iOS developer, a game designer an I, the digital strategist - work. Together, in parallel, collaboratively, depending on what everyone needs at any given day.

Whenever one of us has an idea, we see if there is potential to build something together, and start building right away. Initially, this mostly happens on a trust basis. Once things get more serious, we move things over to the more traditional side of things - in other words: formal agreements. By the time this happens, we had a chance to test the market, gather feedback, see how the team works together on that project and in that particular context.

And within just a few months, this simple setup has let to a successful conference, a number of prototypes (both digital and physical), and a plethora of business ideas. If we keep up the speed, I expect a lot more to come out of KANT.

So for your next idea, screw what your business prof told you back in the day. Gather some smart people you trust and get cracking. You can figure out the legal details later.

    Peter Bihr

    Written by

    What’s the impact of emerging tech, IoT, AI? @thewavingcat: Research & strategy. Co-founded @ThingsCon for a responsible #IoT. Mozilla Fellow. @ZephyrBerlin:👖

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